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Central Ohio Hospitals Brace For COVID Surge

A hospital sign outside Grant Medical Center in downtown Columbus.
David Holm

Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Joe Gastaldo, like many of his colleagues, has been in an all-out battle against the deadly coronavirus for going on 2 straight years.

"A lot of people who go into healthcare, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, therapists, everybody is wired to be 'yes' people. But more importantly, we're wired to relieve pain and suffering. There's also emotional pain and suffering that people go through. And COVID-19 is a collection of all of that."

Gastaldo is the Systems Medical Director at OhioHealth.

"Since early 2020, 95% of what I have been doing has been COVID-related. Whether it be monoclonal antibodies or vaccines, there's so much there. And I think the general public, they really don't realize behind the curtain, how much is going on for health care systems like Ohio Health, like Ohio State like Cleveland Clinic," said Gastaldo.

Unfortunately, in recent weeks as people began gathering indoors for the holidays, local ICUs have begun filling up again.

"One in every five ICU beds in Franklin County have a COVID patient in it. And we have a duty to care for them, certainly. But we also have a duty to care for the rest of the population who is now being squeezed out to people who are having heart attacks and strokes who have some type of trauma," said Gastaldo.

Sherri Kovach is president of the Central Ohio Trauma System or COTS. COTS helps coordinate the responses at area hospitals for any emergency event. COTS has been on the front lines of the pandemic, especially during the recent spike in cases seen across the state and region.

"The biggest thing I would say to our community is this remains a crisis of the unvaccinated. It really, really does. This is preventable," said Kovach.

Kovach said hospitals are having to share the care of some patients, some in critical condition with their lives on the line.

"Typically, rural hospitals and acute care hospitals want to move their sickest of the sick in the Franklin County, they have the stroke and that heart attack and the trauma centers and whatnot, the specialty cancer centers, but we're finding that those beds are very far and few between because of the extra added stress that COVID admissions are putting on. So we're also working to laterally transfer, something we've never done before COVID," said Kovach.

Kovach said because of the strain of COVID patients in his area, sometimes as many as nine hundred more than usual, they have had to use their emergency patient transport plan almost around the clock for months on end.

"Normally we activate that plan five times a year. We've had to keep this emergency patient transport plan for the entirety of December," said Kovach.

Dr. Gastaldo fears if everyone doesn't take COVID more seriously we could see ourselves going in the wrong direction again with many more lives lost and our country locked down. But he believes there is a way to avoid it.

"This virus is not going away. You know we have tools today to make it safer for us to live with the virus. We're going to have more tools very soon with pills. In 2022, we need to care about each other. I care about you, I care about people in Chicago, I care about people in New York, I care about people I haven't even met. And when it comes to caring, it's really hard not to do the right thing. My wish for 2022 is to bring back a sense of caring, love, and pride in your community."

Williams was a reporter for WOSU. Natasha is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and has more than 20 years of television news and radio experience.